A leading New Zealand Māori wards advocate is calling on the prime minister to take immediate action over a major impediment to their establishment in Northland.
Former New Plymouth District Council (NPDC) mayor Andrew Judd says "Legislation change around removing polling over councils' Māori wards voting needs to be the first cab off the rank at the first sitting of our new Parliament".
Northland Regional Council (NRC), Kaipara District Council (KDC) and Whangārei District Council (WDC) have - for the first time - in the last three weeks decided in favour of the wards (district councils) or constituencies (regional council).
A major campaign has already started to demand a poll over one of these councils' decisions. Polls almost always overturn council decisions. Former NRC deputy chair John Bain is spearheading a Democracy Northland campaign to get 6500 NRC electors demanding a poll on their council's decision to NRC before Christmas.
"Changes to the Local Electoral Act need to be made urgently and in a way that makes any Northland polling results null and void," Judd said.
A spokesperson for the prime minister said Maōri wards legislation change consideration was already under way. The government was committed to making the creation of these wards easier, but legislation change would not be considered at the first full working session of the new Parliament - on 1 December.
There was a desire to progress it before the local government elections in 2022, however legislative change would not happen this year, the prime minister's spokesperson said.
Signalled Local Electoral Act (LEA) changes for the next local government elections - with the polling's removal already strongly indicated - do not address the immediate need for how NRC, KDC and WDC - plus at least four others in the same boat nationally - deal with the polling issue in the meantime.
Judd said minister of local government Nanaia Mahuta needed to take urgent action on Māori wards polling too.
A spokesperson for Mahuta said work was being done on how to deal with the issue in the short term. An announcement, ahead of full legislation change for the next local government elections, would be made within three weeks.
NRC will likely write to Mahuta next week, calling for a polling moratorium or similar, after its Tuesday 17 November full council meeting.
An agenda item from council chief executive Malcolm Nicolson outlines other matters NRC will also seek clarification on in the letter. These include asking for a timeline for signalled LEA changes around polling over council decisions in favour of wards/constituencies.
The letter follows the NRC Te Tai Tokerau Māori and Council Working Party's September recommendation council writes to the government on the polling issue.
The right for electors to demand a poll over councils' decisions in favour of Māori wards has become a national flashpoint.
Under the LEA, 5 percent of electors can demand a poll on councils' Māori wards' decisions. In Northland that's 6027 people from NRC's 120,548 electors, 790 people from KDC's 15,806 electors and 3080 people from WDC's 73,563 electors.
Northland has become a Māori wards/constituencies powerhouse after three of its four councils voted in their favour for the 2022 and 2025 local government elections.
At least seven councils nationwide that have voted similarly on the issue so far this year, but Northland is the only region in New Zealand with all its councils voting on these at the same time.
Māori electorates have been a feature of national politics for more than 150 years but that's not the case at the local level.
"As a country we seem to applaud diversity and difference in our representation at a national government level, but that doesn't seem to be the case where the rubber meets the road at the local government level," Judd said.
Just three of New Zealand's 78 local authorities have Māori wards - Wairoa District Council plus Bay of Plenty and Waikato Regional Councils - despite legally being able to do so since 2002.
Judd has campaigned for half a decade to get rid of the right for electors to demand a poll on councils' Māori wards decisions.
He was New Plymouth mayor when his council in 2015 voted for a Māori ward, but a binding citizen-initiated poll overturned this with a vote of 83 percent against.
Eight of New Zealand's last nine citizen-initiated polls of this type have overturned these council decisions.
Judd will speak against polling and about Māori wards at two public meetings Northland later this month.
New Zealand councils that have voted for Māori wards/constituencies this year:
- 1. Kaipara District Council - voted yes for a Māori ward, October 28 2020. Seven votes for decision and two abstentions.
- 2. New Plymouth District Council - voted yes for a Māori ward, July 21 2020. A 12:2 majority decision.
- 3. Northland Regional Council - voted yes for Māori constituencies, October 20 2020. A 7:1 majority decision. (The remaining eight councillors voted after sitting councillor and former deputy-chair John Bain resigned and walked out over the pending vote).
- 4. Ruapehu District Council - voted yes for a Māori ward, October 29 2020. A 10:2 majority decision.
- 5. South Taranaki District Council - voted yes for a Māori ward, November 11 2020. A unanimous decision.
- 6. Tauranga City Council - voted yes for a Maōri ward, August 25 2020. A 6:4 majority decision with one abstention.
- 7. Whangārei District Council - voted yes for Māori wards, November 3 2020. An 8:6 majority decision.
Hawke's Bay Regional Council will vote on Wednesday 18 November on whether to have one or two Māori constituencies for 2022.
Local Democracy Reporting is a public interest news service supported by RNZ, the News Publishers' Association and NZ On Air.